Julián Gayarre: A Brief Biography
Sebastián Julián Gayarre y Garjón, one of the most well-known 19th century tenors in the world was born on 9 January 1844 in Roncal (Navarre).
The son of a local modest couple, the began working at an early age as a shepherd. Once in Pamplona, it is said that he would sing while working at the Pinaqui blacksmith’s and so a colleague offered to sign him up for the recently created Pamplona choral society.
And that is how he entered into contact with the world of voice practice under Conrado García, the organist at the Cathedral of Pamplona and Gayarre’s mentor who taught him the method of Hilarión Eslava who was a Navarre master from Burlada. Eslava was taken by Gayarre’s voice and helped him enter the Conservatory of Madrid with a grant where he won second prize in singing in 1868.
Patrons and friends from Pamplona got him a grant from the Foral Government of Navarre so he could study in Milan (Italy). He debuted in Varese in 1869 with “L´elisir de amore” (G. Donizetti) to great success (he sang the romanza “Una furtiva lagrima” moments after receiving a telegram informing him of the death of his mother).
He career became unstoppable after that
He triumphed in Bologna, Rome, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Vienna… One of his most important achievements in Italy was bringing success to Wagner’s operas as this music had had more detractors than fans until that time. The German master said to Gayarre once: “You are the Lohengrin I dreamt of”.
His definitive consecration came on 2 January 1876 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan with the opera “La favorita” (G. Donizetti) after which time he was considered the best tenor in the world.
His performances in London, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Seville, Barcelona, Naples, Paris… earned him the nickname “Senza rivali” in Italy, “le Roi du chant” in France and “el Tenor de la voz de angel” in Spain.
In December 1889, he agreed to sing “The Pearl Fishers” (G. Bizet) in the Royal Theatre in Madrid despite being ill. Upon hitting the high B flat of the aria “Je crois entendre encore” his voice went out and he fainted. Afflicted with bronchial pneumonia, he died in Madrid on 2 January 1890 at 46 years of age. His wish was to be buried in his birth village, Roncal. His remains now rest in the cemetery of the Navarre village under the mausoleum created by Mariano Benlliure in 1901.
In 1903, the name of the Main Theatre of Pamplona was changed to Gayarre Theatre in memory of the tenor.
The “Gayarre Friends of the Opera Association of Navarre” (AGAO) was created in 1990.
Julián Gayarre is a figure that arouses interest and admiration still today, more than a century after his death. His home in Roncal, now a museum, receives thousands of guests every year who can learn more about Gayarre as well as the music of his time through the visit.
In spite of the lack of any recordings, the voice of Julián Gayarre can be considered one of the most outstanding in the history of lyrical art just judging by his career as a singer, the testimonies of many people who were lucky enough to hear him sing in theatres and the comments made by Gayarre’s own colleagues as well as composers and music critics of the time.